October 22nd, 2013

carole lombard 02
  • vp19

Staging a 'Vigil' in an Arcade

carole lombard vigil in the night 15a

"Vigil In The Night" arguably is the most challenging of Carole Lombard moviegoing experiences. The joyous, fun-loving Carole who effortlessly charmed audiences is nowhere to be found here, replaced by a no-nonsense woman whose intensity to service as a nurse is admirable, if nothing else. A well-made film, to be sure, but its heaviness led to lackluster box-office in the first few months of 1940. This wasn't the Lombard people wanted to see.

With all that working against it, you wouldn't think "Vigil" would have much of a shelf life in theaters. But that's not the case, at least for one theater in Manhattan in 1941, by which time Lombard had re-established herself as a comedy queen with "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" and newspapers reported she was working on another comedy, this one with Ernst Lubitsch:

carole lombard vigil in the night herald 00a

Note "Vigil" was buried in the Tuesday and Wednesday slots, as more popular fare was scheduled for weekend business.

If the unrelenting gloom proved too much for theatergoers, they could play bingo and win cash (talk about a study in contrasts), a promotion along the lines of movie "bank nights" from a few years before. The theater where all this took placed was called the Arcade, on Broadway a few blocks north of Columbus Circle. Here are the front and back pages of this herald, with another George Stevens-directed film on front:

carole lombard vigil in the night herald 01a
carole lombard vigil in the night herald 02a

Those who dropped by the Arcade that Sunday afternoon to watch "Broadway Melody Of 1940" left the theater learning about a Japanese attack on the U.S. naval compound at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thrusting America into the global conflict already known as World War II. Lombard herself would be an indirect casualty of the war the following month.

The Arcade opened in 1919. Seating about 550, it was a second-run house for much of the 1920s and '30s. (The photo below probably dates to 1937 or so, as the three films on the marquee opened between 1934 and 1936.)

new york arcade theater 01

Fire destroyed the Arcade a few years after "Vigil" was shown there, and a new theater, the Studio, was built on the site, labeling itself New York's first postwar cinema, with a more modernistic motif:

new york arcade theater 02
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Later renamed the Cinema Studio and twinned, it became a familiar haunt for Manhattan moviegoers in the 1970s and '80s; you can catch a glimpse of it in Woody Allen's 1979 "Manhattan." But soaring real estate values made its land more valuable for other uses and it closed in 1990, appropriately showing the elegiac "Cinema Paradiso" as its final feature. A Barnes and Noble bookstore was built on the block, later succeeded by a branch of the Century 21 department store.

The herald is listed in good condition; you can buy it for $7.50 or make an offer. Learn more at http://www.ebay.com/itm/MOVIE-HERALD-1941-ELLERY-QUEEN-FRED-ASTAIR-CAROLE-LOMBARD-STANWYCK-/300996204046?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4614c5960e.
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